Sunday, September 25, 2022

Maybe someone cared about this place once

took the time to set the plants in motion. Orange daylilies in the spring. The black-eyed Susans in summer. Purple aster and rosy pink sedum in fall. It took me several years to figure the patterns out, the first year spent surveying the mess, the plants toppling over each other, the choking weeds, and everywhere, shoots of #%$^% bamboo. 

That was the first thing to go. That, and the prison door. 

Some days I seriously thought about tearing everything out, scouring it down to the hard, packed dirt. But then I would've missed the design hiding under all of that mess. How each season's flowers give way to the next. There's a metaphor hiding here too and if I thought I could explain it to you, I would, but for now, let's pretend I'm talking about my backyard, 

and how I learned what needed to be shed and what might be lovely to keep. 

1. It helps to know what you are dealing with. IE, what these plants are. This seems like a no brainer, but I can't tell you how long I spent trying to identify this stuff. You can google, and there are plant identifying apps and books, of course, but I found it most helpful to ask a more knowledgeable gardening friend. Think: therapist, but with flowers.

2. Don't do anything you may regret (except for what you are absolutely sure about--the prison door; the noxious bamboo). It really is okay to take your time while you get your bearings. 

3. But at some point, you will be ready to act, and when you are, do it. Dig out a plant and plop it somewhere else. Rip something else out all together and toss it in the compost. 

4. Or don't. Not everything is worth saving.

5. This is your garden now, after all. Acknowledge what was gifted to you and then draw up your own design. Plant your seeds. Find joy in what grows. 

6. As for the rest—take a breath. It’s okay. I promise—let it go. 


Sunday, September 18, 2022

I Yoga-ed with a Goat (and I liked it)

Something interesting that I noticed yesterday when I was doing goat yoga in the park outside the library is that when a baby goat jumps on your back, and their little hooves nudge and shuffle over your shoulder blades, and their tail switches against your neck, and their furry body bonks the back of your head, you can't help but be in the moment. Being

in the Moment is something I've been working on for years and with varying degrees of success. Day-to-day moments like walking the dog and doing the dishes and checking in books at the library are moments I can manage. These are quiet moments where I can reasonably expect what is going to happen next. 

Also, it helps to be on vacation, dog paddling around in the cool water of Woods Hole, Massachusetts. And now I can add: Sit in a Park and Let Baby Goats Jump on Your Back to my list. But what I really want is to stay present in moments without the cool ocean water and without baby goats. 

Moments that are uncomfortable. Stressful. Scary. These are the moments when I slip into what I've learned is a trauma response. You may have heard of this as "Fight, Flight, or Freeze." It's our body's way of protecting us when we perceive danger. Of course when you really ARE in danger, these responses good. They are automatic, self-protective, and essential for survival. 

The trouble is, later, when you are no longer in danger, your body may still be hard-wired for these responses, perceiving threat where there is none. An example is a soldier home after battle who cowers at the sound of fireworks or a car backfiring. But trauma response also occurs in survivors of childhood abuse, victims of natural disaster, or any number of life-altering events.  

In my case I may run away or I may lash out at someone, but typically, I dissociate. In other words, I disappear. Disappearing seems like the most innocuous of the three responses, and I even used to joke about it, how when things get too rough I can float right out of my own head, and what a fun trick that is. Except, 

it isn't fun. Because the thing about disappearing is that when you do it, you miss things. Important things. Like bits and pieces of holidays and birthday parties. Your child's graduation. Your own wedding. And when you "come back," which you inevitably will, you are jittery, wrung out, sad and ashamed.

There is the added element of powerlessness. Something happens to trigger you, and you respond, as if a button has been pushed. I don't know who I am speaking to here, in this moment, or who might need to hear this, but I have recently learned that there is a space between the trigger and your response.  

And you can sit in that space and ground yourself. With some practice, you may be able to take a breath and keep yourself from floating away. 

The goats don't know what yoga is, the goat handler told us at the beginning of the yoga class. They are just here. Clomping around in the grass on a lovely day in the park in front of the library building. Stopping to inspect and munch on a leaf. Pooping on someone's yoga mat (okay, that was MY yoga mat!). And every now and then 

clambering joyfully onto someone's back. I mean, me. They were clambering onto my back. And weirdly, I liked it.   

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Bee Moment

The water was cold at the beach and every morning it took me a good twenty minutes to work my way into it. First, to the tops of my feet, up to the ankles. Then to the knees. The thighs. An excruciatingly long moment at the waist. Until at last, the final plunge. Once I was all the way in though, it wasn't so bad. 

Actually, it was very nice. 

I'd paddle around, drifting on my side, rolling onto my back. Watch the seagulls landing on the nearby rocks. A sailboat gliding past. And somewhere in the distance the honk of the ferry horn. It occurred to me that I was not tangled up in my own thoughts about the past or worrying over something that might happen in the future. 

Instead, I was present and relaxed, fully inhabiting the moment. But then, I was on vacation. Why wouldn't I be relaxed? The trick would be coming home, and how could I bottle up this feeling? Take the Here with me. The ocean scrabbling over the sand. The seagulls... cawing? Cooing? Whatever sound it is that seagulls make. 

All week I was reading a book about time travel, a span of four hundred years, and every hundred years a global pandemic. Which doesn't sound like a fun book, I know, but strangely, it was soothing to me. How time kept repeating itself, and in each time, it was surprising, and somehow, not surprising. 

We go on vacation. We come home. 

But wait. It wasn't the moment on vacation I wanted to bottle up and carry with me. It was the moment-y moment of wherever I was, wherever I am. Flipping through books at the library. Or tapping on my keyboard. Or shopping for a mother-of-the-bride dress (I found one!) (WOOT WOOT!) 

Or just this morning passing by the bobbing flowers in my garden, quietly slowing, so as not to wake 

a sleeping bee. 

Sunday, September 4, 2022

A Library of Dresses

would be nice, but I don't think this is a thing. At least not where I live. What some people may not know is that there are all kinds of items--in addition to books, movies and music--available at their local library. 

At my library in Columbus, Ohio, for example, you can borrow a mobile hotspot, a tape recorder, and a light therapy lamp (the kind that helps you combat seasonal depression). At other libraries in our system there are jigsaw puzzles, boardgames, headphones, and a set of orange parallel parking cones. 

And at the lovely library in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, a place I visited a few weeks ago on my vacation, I found a delightful assortment of items ready for checkout, including a sewing machine, a tortilla press, a telescope, a ukulele, and a Halloween Monster cake pop pan, just in case you ever find yourself in need of one of those.  

I mean, LOOK AT THIS fun brochure:

But unfortunately, the Woods Hole Public Library does not offer dresses, specifically, a Mother of the Bride dress. 

Which is a giant bummer, because I could really use one of those right now. Instead, I trekked it out to the expansive outdoor mall in our area, accompanied by my husband, who is the best sport ever, the two of us dodging the crowd, the crowd itself, the main topic of our conversation. Who are all these people? I would say, or my husband would say. And then I would add, or he would add, 

And why are they here?

Why are WE here? was the follow-up question. But that answer was easy. Because the library does not offer Mother of the Bride dresses in the catalog and our daughter's wedding is in (gulp) eight weeks. 

Here is the thing about me and shopping: I don't like it. The rummaging through racks. The trying on of clothes. The part where you squint at the three-way mirror and realize that while the sorta okay dress looked sorta okay hanging on the hanger, it sorta does not look okay when it's hanging on you. 

Everyone and their mother is in this store right now, I text to my best friend and my daughter, who are both very kindly (virtually) nudging me along. And then after a beat, Wait, everyone and their mother really IS in this store right now. 

Turns out these dress shops are crowded with daughters shopping with their moms for homecoming dresses. There's a line to get into the dressing room. Crowds of teenagers traipsing past the fancy mother-of-the-bride-ish looking dresses toward the younger, more sparkly Homecoming-ish style.

Suddenly, I am flashing back to shopping trips with my daughter when she was in high school, the flinging of different sized dresses over the dressing room door, the oohs and ahs at my darling little girl turned lovely grown up young woman, the trip we took less than a year ago when she tried on her wedding dress, that dress not sorta okay at all, 

but stunning on the hanger, on her, a radiant soon-to-be-bride in eight short weeks! And Oh my gosh 

what am I doing, whining about trying on a dress (well, truthfully, A LOT of dresses) when I know one of them will turn out to be completely fine, and anyway, who even cares what I'm wearing, as long as it's hanging on me somewhat comfortably, my hand in my husband's hand, our daughter and son-in-law, our gathered family and friends, each of us in our bought/rented/borrowed clothing, so happy to be here

and all of us together. 

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Frances hit the tree again (and other stories I heard on my vacation)

We were walking in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, my husband and I, a stroll over a bridge, a harbor, the boats bobbing along, and as an elderly man and his wife passed by, the man stopped and pointed over his shoulder. "Frances hit the tree again," he said, and I nodded, as if I knew Frances, as if I knew what tree he was talking about. 

"It's a mess," the man said. "All over the road. But if you stay on this side of the street, you'll be okay." I nodded again and smiled. I was thinking What a nice place this is, where strangers issue warnings about fallen trees, where the gossip about Frances, whoever she is, whatever problems she's suffering from (crashing into trees! Oh my God!) is the gentle, informative kind of gossip, and not the mean, disparaging kind. 

Who's Frances? my husband said. 

I started spinning out theories. Frances the town goofball, the concerned chatter about her increasingly shaky driving abilities. My husband thought maybe Frances had been riding a bike. But would that knock a tree down, we wondered. We'd reached the corner and turned, and there was the tree ahead, a large piece of it lying across the road, and suddenly it occurred to me that what the man had actually said was not "Frances hit the tree again," but,

something more like "Branch fell from the tree up there." (For the record, I like my version of this story better.) 

And then there were the women walking on the beach as my husband was angling to take a selfie with me and our son. Our son was the reason we were visiting Woods Hole. Spoiler alert: he and his longtime girlfriend were going to propose to each other that night! Her parents have a house in Woods Hole, and the family, and our son and his girlfriend had invited us to stay nearby, show us the town, be there for the big moment. The women on the beach stopped,

and one of them offered to take a picture of the three of us. "Life is short," she added, and I thought she'd said, "Like your shirt," and I was already spinning out theories about why she might like my husband's shirt, or my shirt, or maybe she was talking about our son's? This miscommunication was cleared up more quickly than the Frances saga 

because the woman helpfully repeated herself and we all agreed that life IS short and we let her take our picture and then offered to take hers and her partner's, and after the picture-taking we chatted like old friends, saying Life is short to each other because it really and truly is.

My future daughter-in-law's parents live on the water and at night they served us dinner out on the porch and I couldn't get over the place, the people, the sailboats drifting by, the hoot every forty-five minutes of the nearby ferry going back and forth to Martha's Vineyard, which all of the Woods Hole-ians simply call "The Vineyard," the flowery tablecloth that I decided was not fancy but festive, and why couldn't I have a tablecloth like that if I wanted it? 

Answer: I could. I do now. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Every morning my husband and I waded out into the cold water and watched our son and his girlfriend swim laps out to a buoy and my husband kept saying, This water is so cold! And I would say, I know! and then we would dare each other to dunk in, egging each other on by repeating our new favorite mantra: Life is short. 

What do you think Frances is up to now, my husband asked me as we shivered together, our son and future daughter-in-law small blips against the horizon.  

Only yesterday, it seemed, we were dropping our son off at college, one of the many times we dropped him off at college, and he said, I want you to meet my new girlfriend, and later, on the drive home, my husband said, Do you think she is the one? 

And only the yesterday before that, our son was in high school whacking lacrosse balls in the backyard, in middle school building hovercrafts out of leaf-blowers with his best friend, a ten-year-old riding a bike ahead of me on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, the last time we visited this part of the country, and now--

The same night Frances hit the tree and the woman complimented our shirts, we all walked out on the beach as the sun was setting, my husband and me and our son's girlfriend's parents, the four of us hanging back, watching, as our son and their daughter walked ahead, out along a jetty, stopping at the tip, a sparkle of sunlight on the water. 

Our son got down on one knee and after a few moments, he stood, and she got down on one knee. 

And then it was over. 

The sun had set. The ferry hooted as it made its way out of the harbor or into it. We drank champagne and made toasts and I didn't say it but I was thinking it: this place, these people, 

this moment

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Don't tell the dog we're going on vacation

because she gets nervous. Or maybe I am the one who gets nervous. I don’t know where this comes from, my travel anxiety. My need to scour the entire house, for example, before we can walk out the door. 

I mean, I love vacations, I just don’t like the part where you have to prep, to pack, to travel to get wherever you are going. My husband knows this about me after many many years of witnessing it, and mostly he goes with the flow. 

Okay, he says, I get why you want to have clean sheets on the bed, why you want the bathrooms to be clean, why you want to leave a detailed note for the dog sitter, but why are you—what are you—? 

He stops mid-step into the kitchen, where I am presently taking an orchid plant apart in the sink. 

(What led to this was we have an orchid that’s been dormant for two years and I thought it was dead and was ready to pitch it, but this morning I saw a Tik Tok video that shows step-by-step how to revive an orchid plant. It is truly amazing.) 

My husband is slowly shaking his head.

I was cleaning the sink, I explain, which led to me cleaning the windows above the sink and then clearing the plants off to dust the sill, and then I saw the orchid… 

He’s still shaking his head, and I notice him noticing the food I have set out on the counter, the travel snacks I’ve planned for the road. Tomatoes and basil I picked from the garden, which I’m readying to toss into a caprese salad. Fruit I’ve washed. Veggies I’ve cut to go with some hummus dip. The parsley and mint and onions I’m chopping to go into the—

Is that tabbouleh? My husband asks incredulously. Are you making a tabbouleh salad? 

But back to the dog. Typically, before we leave on vacation, she seems to catch my anxiety, whirling around behind me as I scour toilets and change sheets, and erm, revive orchid plants and prepare homemade tabbouleh salad. But the moment she sees us dragging the suitcases up from the basement, she goes into full blown terror mode, panting and crying. I have a brilliant idea as I tuck the now already-perky-looking orchid into a jar of water and set it back on the windowsill. 

Let’s not take out the suitcases! We’ll keep them in the basement and carry our clothes and toiletries down there to pack!

My husband busts out laughing, but God love him, this is exactly what we do. 

Let me tell you the secret of the orchid plant. Over time, the root ball gets tired and tangled up, pieces of it, shriveled and dead. But with a little patience, you can untangle it, cut off the dead bits, clean it all up and get the plant going again. 

Wait. I think what I am actually writing about here is not orchids or worried dogs, but about vacations and why, even though some people are always anxious before they embark upon one, they still need to GO. 

So, I go. I’m gone. I’m here. Away from home and only one day in, feeling untangled and revived. 

By the way, before we left, the dog figured it out. In the morning, as I tiptoed around packing the cooler with what my husband calls the Bougie Travel Snacks, while I thought the dog was still asleep upstairs, she woke up and caught my husband in the act of carrying the pillows out to the car. She paced around my legs and cried. I kissed her on the nose and told her what I always tell her before we leave the house. 

It's okay. We'll be back soon. 



Sunday, August 14, 2022

The library is cool

I mean that literally. 

We keep the air on Cool, and most of our patrons love it, exclaiming excitedly how nice it feels when they walk inside, a much-needed break from the sweltering weather. And I like it because usually I am running around in that place, checking in cartloads of books and shlepping materials up and down the stairs now that the elevator is out of order. 

Not that I mind. I like the exercise, the bustle and movement. I've never been one to sit still for long. Even when I was home writing all day, I had to get up and stretch at least once an hour. Walk the dog. Do the dishes. Shuffle outside into the garden. I am a knee jiggler. A foot tapper. A pacer. 

Oh my God, sit down, my family has been known to say to me, and I pause mid-whirl, surprised that I was in motion. But back to the cool-ness of the library. Not everyone is a fan, a few patrons making their objections known to us quite emphatically, one even going so far as to write a strongly worded note. Which we acknowledge politely, but let it go. 

As much as we would love to, we can't make everybody happy. 

I want to remember this, but like other hard truths, I often forget it. Why can't we all just get along, I occasionally whine, and when I am in a particularly sad place, I cry about it. It has been the work of my life -- I was going to say, to make sense of things-- but the reality is that some things simply do not make sense and some people may never get along, and so I will amend that to:

It is the work of my life to come to terms with it. 

Accept the too-coldness of the room. Focus on the people I love, pace around them, sprinkling blankets and hot tea and comfy sweaters. But listen to them too, when they tell me, It’s okay now. You can stop.    

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Surprised by Watermelon

What happened was I thought it was a cucumber. 

That's what I'd planted, a labeled seedling, a gift from a gardening friend. And it did look like a cucumber at first. Small. Pale green. The vines I staked, the coiling tendrils, the delicate yellow flowers--all very cucumber-like. 

And who knew what variety my friend had given me--I mean, last week I was surprised by the weirdo arm-length white cucumber--so maybe this one was supposed to turn out bowling ball large, a darkening green? If I know anything about gardening, I know the more I know, the more I know I don't know. But isn't that the way with everything? Take the chamomile 

I planted two summers ago, the seller at the farmers market assuring me it would re-seed right where I planted it, so I took care. Found the perfect spot in my herb garden for it to take root, but then, the next spring it was gone. It wasn't until several weeks later I found an odd seedling sprouting in a place I would never have planted something, across the patio, right at the edge of my husband's barbecue grill.

I almost yanked it out, thinking it was some kind of weed, but no, it was the chamomile, the seeds carried by a bird or who knows what. The garden goes where it wants to go. This year, I found a surprise cherry tomato plant popping up by the oregano. Volunteers, my mother-in-law calls them, and I love that word, the whole idea of it, 

an unseen hand guiding the seed traffic, overseeing the design, and not just random accidents, the regurgitation of a robin, a shift of the breeze. And wouldn't it be nice if there were a garden-y ghost making note of the fertile cracks in the pavement, 

some kindly presence who slows down the green bean production at the moment you have had your fill of them and speeds up the ripening of the zucchini on the day you want to make zucchini bread? 

Don't we all love that volunteer friend who takes charge of the whole shebang, calculates the excessive number of white cucumbers from one plant, and nodding along, muttering to herself, suddenly snaps her fingers and announces,

Let's make this one a watermelon.  

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Four Cakes and a Cucumber

Six months ago, a year ago, I don’t have any sense of time anymore, a dear coworker was leaving the library and we sent her off with a little goodbye party, a cake, a card and best wishes in her new position at another library. Less than a month (two weeks?) later, another longtime coworker left, and it was back to the party, the cake. 

The same woman took charge of both cake-orderings, and then, a month later (a week?) SHE was the one leaving, off to her retirement in Florida, and this time I volunteered to order the cake. 

That was three cakes ago, (four?) and I am now officially, I guess? the cake orderer for people leaving the library and I must say I have it down to a science. This is not a one person job! First, you have to come up with the perfect design. This task has been delegated to our library's resident artist, Emma. (See here for one fun doodly sample of Emma's work.) 

Next step is a trip to the bakery at the local grocery store to confer with Danny, the cake designer, and my new friend. Danny has taught me that there is a real skill involved in what can be done with frosting and cake--a note here that we have gone from ordering 1/4th sheet cakes to choosing the smaller 1/8th design, complicating Danny's efforts, but honestly, there is only so much cake our dwindling staff can eat in two months,

six weeks? And further complicating the situation, when I ordered the third cake (fourth?) DANNY WAS NOT THERE! Apparently, he's off on Wednesdays, but someone else was happy to fill in and (can't remember her name, give me time) she did a lovely job, but I am feeling a little worn out with cakes. With dear coworkers leaving. All for good reasons. But still. I miss them. And cake--

(CONFESSION: I don't like cake. I have never eaten a slice of any of these cakes, lovely as they are)--

but anyway, cake cannot make up for the losses. To console myself, in the mornings before work, I keep busy in the garden, one day eying with curiosity and then with a little alarm, a cucumber, which seemed to be doubling in size every few days, and still a whitish/pale green. When I asked my gardener friend who gave me the seedling, she told me it's supposed to be this color and go ahead and pick it now. 

So I did, laughing, and laughing more when I saw that there were several other cucumbers growing, doubling in size right behind this one. 

With any luck we will have enough cucumber to eat for days, for weeks, for months. 

(see below for four cakes and a cucumber)

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Afternoon at the library

and boys spill inside, playing lightsabers, the battle edging into the new books section, giggling, shouting, one of the boys collapsing dramatically in front of the self-checkouts. The older woman browsing a cookbook looks up and we both raise our eyebrows and smile,

thinking (gratefully) how our parenting days are behind us, or maybe that's just me, and when did this happen? One moment I was washing the dishes, peering out the window at my kids darting across the lawn, my daughter and her little friends prancing with broomsticks pretending they were Harry Potter, my son and his best friend tinkering with the Medieval-style catapult they'd built, 

and now

they're all grown up and far away, the real world much more precarious than any they had ever played, and darker than any I had ever imagined for them. And believe me, I can imagine a lot. 

I read a book last week that I hesitate to recommend, not because it wasn't good, but because it did its job too well. Freaked me out, actually. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. It is marketed as Science Fiction, when there's not much science-y or fiction-y about it. Published in 1993, it takes place in the early 2020s, in a world of extreme climate change and societal breakdown. Oh, and lots and lots of guns. 

The narrator is a teenage girl, but it was the older folks in the story who interested me. Those people long for the past to what they perceive to be better times and are incapable, despite the imminent danger, of accepting reality. In the end (SPOILER!), they perish, and it's down to the younger generation to navigate the present. 

The book is supposed to be hopeful, I think, and isn't all of dystopian literature? No matter how terrible, there are always a few left to tell the tale, is what I used to say when I talked up these books to my students. 

But that was a long time ago, when a book like that seemed fantastical. When I was young myself, and so, naturally, assumed I would be one of the survivors. 

The boys pick themselves up and resume their lightsaber battle. That movie came out years and years before they were born, but isn’t it funny how perfectly they mimic the whoosh of electricity, the clank of light beams hitting light beams? I show them where we keep the Star Wars books and they seem weirdly surprised. 

I don't know why. I mean, we're in a library. 

Sunday, July 17, 2022

The garden is out of control

The plants someone else planted, spreading and clumped. The ferns burnt up by the heat. The daylilies flopped over. The black-eyed susans drifting drifting drifting onto the weedy lawn. Such a big mess, I don't even know where to start. 

And then there's the matter with the Loosestrife, which I only recently learned is an invasive species. Yank it out now! shout the more knowledgeable gardeners in my gardening group. And then set it on fire! (They're joking about the setting it on fire part.) Wait. Are they joking? And all along I'd thought the loosestrife was pretty, with its big shoots of purply flowers that all the bees love. Isn't a plant "good," if it attracts bees? The more I learn, the less I understand. 

The cruelty of the world, for example. It isn't new, but some days it feels that way. Once I was a ten-year-old girl. Painfully quiet and living loudly inside my own head. Not pregnant like the little Ohio girl in the news, but that was only luck. 

I am so very grateful for that. 

But here is a question: Why do some little girls get canopy beds and a sweet goodnight kiss on the forehead, while other little girls... don't? About that mess in the garden, you start where you start.

One corner of the yard. Watering the ferns. Breaking apart the daylilies. Digging up the weeds and moving the black-eyed susans. Stopping for a moment to set out a water dish for insects because, Hey! they have to drink too! (This I learned in the session I went to at the library on "How to Turn Your Backyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat.") 

We're losing birds. We're losing bees. And bats and fireflies and little girls. Some of the neighbors spray pesticides on their lush, carpet-y lawns. Maybe it is a lost cause. Our luck running out, and what can we do? 

Regarding the loosestrife, there is a solution: replace it with a different purply-flowered plant called Blazing Star, a native species both bee and gardening-group-approved. Newly planted in my backyard, it hums with bees. And today, at least, all of them will have fresh water to drink. 

I was one of the lucky ten-year-old girls. A daily reminder to myself never to forget it. 

Sunday, July 10, 2022

The perfect day

begins with red raspberries picked off the bush my daughter planted two years ago. It was the height of the lockdown, the plant hardly more than a seedling. Now it's taken over one corner of the backyard, enough raspberries to eat handfuls each morning as I do my daily stroll through the garden, avoiding the dog poop and yanking out a stray shoot of bamboo--

that damn bamboo, three years digging it up and still it finds a way to lurk, to spread--

but let's go back to talking about the raspberries, the morning garden stroll, the zucchini that's swelled overnight and all of those green beans that only yesterday were flowers, were seeds. I don't know how any of it works. I only have faith that it will. 

And on a perfect day, I do have faith. 

On a perfect day, there is no bad news. No churn of anxiety. No tripping over the hose when I'm hauling my garbage bin out, skinned knees and torn pants--and those were new pants!--but ah well, it could've been worse. Now, sitting here writing (on the perfect day, of course I am writing) the quiet front porch, the absurd pink plants bobbing with bees, a woman on a bike stops to slip books into the little free library.

The dog barks warning barks, unsure if the woman is stranger or friend. Somewhere in between, I tell the dog, as if she can understand language. Last year on vacation with friends, browsing shops in a touristy part of town, we came upon a picture of a shoe in a store window, a sign: What colors do you see? 

Gray, I said, with teal-colored laces. At the same time my husband and friend said, Pink with white laces.

What? we all exclaimed, as my friend's husband laughed and reminded us that he was colorblind and all he saw was a shoe. The owner came out of the store then and told us what it meant. 

Pink and white and you are creative, right-brained. 

Teal and white, you are logical, left-brained. 

What's gray and teal? I said.

The woman shrugged. Somewhere in the middle. She turned to squint at me. Do you have trouble making decisions? 

My husband eyed me knowingly and we continued on our stroll, each of us seeing what only each of us could see. 

I finish up eating the day's red raspberries. Twist off the zucchini and the green beans. Eye the coloring on the tomatoes, the heft of the green peppers. Straighten the books in the library. Finish my writing. 

A perfect day.  

Sunday, July 3, 2022

We lost power

It was only for two days. Less than two days really. But it felt like forever. Outside was the hottest day of the year and so humid that the moment you stepped out, your sunglasses fogged up. People die in this kind of heat. Their perishable food perishes. Their pets pant and malinger. I was up in my office writing when

the lights shut off and the background whir of the air conditioning suddenly went silent. DAMN IT. But I wasn't too worried at first. Ten years ago we'd been through a series of storms, of outages. Every other month it seemed we were losing power. We knew the drill. 

Out came the candles and flashlights, the kind neighbors next door firing up their generator and throwing a cord over the back fence so we could keep our fridge going. We had a gas stove. Hot water. So, no real danger or suffering. The kids were younger then and living at home, and part of me liked how the power-less-ness slowed us all down, kept us home, playing cards or bananagrams by candlelight. We knew life would go back to normal soon. The people in charge would see to it. 

One too many outages though, my husband had had enough and he splurged on our own generator. The day he brought it home, literally in the minutes he was driving with the thing down the street, the lights came back on. He joked that he'd singlehandedly brought the power back to our neighborhood by his purchase and we'd likely never even need to use the generator. 

He was right--until ten years later, a few weeks ago, the hottest day of the year, the two of us alone, minus the kids, and in a new house, no neighbor next door chucking the generator cord over the fence, and too late realizing our own never-used generator was stuck in the garage. 

Behind the electric-powered door. 

Only two days and we lost nothing, and still with a gas stove, the hot water, an easily broken into garage to haul out the generator. I made my way slowly to the library through blacked out traffic lights, stepping around patrons everywhere sitting, some of them on the floor, plugged up with their electronics and trying to keep cool, the phone ringing off the hook, are you open, do you have air, and back home again to the darkening, warming house, not nearly as confident this time that the power will come back on, that we aren't one big storm, one teetering electrical grid away from something scary--

It's okay, my husband reassures me. It's your anxiety, and not the world collapsing.

And okay, okay, for now, I will choose to believe him, watching as he fires up the generator, watching as this time he is the one throwing the cord over the fence to power a neighbor's fridge. 

Sunday, June 26, 2022

No words

I stopped writing this week. No words on my work-in-progress. No words in my every-morning-for-the-past-fifteen-years journal. Writing is how I make sense of the world, how I process my thoughts. But more and more the world makes no sense, and I am tired of processing my own thoughts. 

What if, I wondered, I just decided to quit?  

I spent a day cleaning. I spent another day flopped out on the porch swing, alternating between trying to read, crying, and sleeping. It was possible I was having something of a minor nervous breakdown. But then I got tired of that too and took the dog for a walk. It was swelteringly hot and I could feel the energy leaking out of me with every step. How do other people do this? 

But I already know the answer. You just do it. 

When I was a little girl, I used to have panic attacks. Nightmares. I'd wake in the middle of the night and couldn't fall back to sleep. Or rather, I was afraid to fall back to sleep. I was terrified of the dark.

Terrified of someone sneaking into my bedroom in the middle of the night. It wasn't a baseless fear. Even when I was eight years old, I knew that there are bad people in this world, and truly, many of them want to hurt us. To cope, I surrounded myself with dolls and stuffed animals, a particular order and arrangement, their plastic-y faces and hairy heads pressing against me as I fought to keep my eyes open. I always lost the battle. 

There's a road my dog sometimes leads me down when we go on our walks that I call the Chicken Road because it winds behind a house that has a chicken coop in the backyard. The dog likes to run up to the fence and the chickens lazily scatter. Then they scrabble back, not really afraid, the dog, tongue lolling, happily watching. While the animals play this game, I study the small wooden door that someone (the chicken owner person?) has glued onto the bottom of a nearby lamppost. It's exactly the kind of thing I would've loved when I was a little girl. 

Small things because I was small and wished I could be even smaller. One more plastic doll propped on a bed. But what a small door! Where could a door like that lead? To what other world? And off my little mind would go. The colorful, rollicking landscape. The happy and kind people who lived in that place. 

Something I learned when I was eight years old was that while I had no control over my own life, I had been given a gift to slip into other lives. Forget the dolls and stuffed animals. I could write. I didn't do it to understand the senselessness of the world or to process my own thoughts. No. Back then writing was escape. Survival. Magic. 


It got me the hell out of where I came from and kept me (somewhat) sane along the way. It brought me to where I am now. Paused for the moment on a winding road with the dog and the scattering chickens. A door fixed to a lamppost, and what can I do... but open it? 

Sunday, June 19, 2022

It's Father's Day

and I don't have a father. I mean, I did have a father, but he died when I was barely out of first grade, so I didn't know him. I had a stepfather for seven years, but he wasn't what anyone would've called a father. I don't think of him on Father's Day. 

On Father's Day I think of other fathers. My husband, for example, who is an excellent father. And his father; also, a good parent. Being raised by a good parent probably leads to good parenting, but it's not a prerequisite. Thank goodness, or else how many of us would be in trouble?

As a kid who did not have a father, I was curious about them. Friends' dads. Neighbors. Uncles. But for the most part I didn't give them much of a thought. And then Father's Day would roll around and it was time to make a Father's Day card in school and you'd see commercials of men grilling and fishing and how you should buy your dear old dad a tie or cologne or whatever. For me those commercials may as well have been talking about space aliens. And sometimes it hurt to be reminded of what I didn't have and would never have. 

All of this is to say that I try to be mindful when it comes to kids and whatever their particular family arrangement is. But the other day my mindfulness went out the window. What happened is I was working at the desk at the library and a mom came in with two kids. 

This one, she said, gesturing at a boy around twelve years old and happily bookish-looking, isn't mine. He's a neighbor and he wants to check out books today but he doesn't have a library card. 

I sat up straight, eager, of course, to help, but explaining the unfortunate but necessary rule that while minors may apply for a library card, they've got to have a parent or guardian with them to finalize the deal. 

The kid's shoulders slumped. 

But hey, I said brightly, you can ask your mom to come back with you later, or tomorrow. Fill out the application online. It takes like, three minutes. 

And then I had a better idea. Maybe, I said to the kid, you have a library card already? Your mom might've gotten one for you when you were little? I can check the system for you. 

The kid looked anxious, but hopeful. He gave me his name and birthdate, and sure enough, there he was in the system! I don't know who was more excited about it, him or me. Come back up to the desk, I told him, when you've got your books and I'll check you out. You can ask your mom for the card when you get home and if she's not sure where it is, the next time you come in, I'll give you a new one. 

He nodded and headed down to the youth section, but the neighbor mother lingered at the desk. I thought she was going to compliment me on my quick thinking and expert management of the problem, but instead, she leaned in a little and lowered her voice. 

Not a big deal, she said, and he never would've told you himself, but he doesn't have a mom. He's got two dads. 

Oh! I said. 

Not a big deal, the woman said again. Just thought you might want to know. 

I do, I said. Thanks! But internally I was still wincing, scrambling back through the earlier conversation, all of my mentions of mom and why had I made that assumption and here we are at the library, a place that strives to be safe and welcoming to all.

When the boy came up later to check out his books, I was still feeling like a ding dong. I didn't want to say Dad this time or Dads because I didn't want him to know what his neighbor had shared with me. Twelve-year-olds, I know from experience, don't feel comfortable learning that adults have been chatting behind their backs, and who can blame them. Instead, I said what I say to all of the patrons who stop by my desk. 

Have a nice day!  

And I do hope he had one, has one. Odds are, he will. A kid with two dads on Father's Day. My childhood self would've been over the moon. 

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Please This Is a Wedding Dress: A Drama in Three Acts

Act One 

It's Tuesday and my errand for the day is: mail my daughter's wedding dress to her. A few months ago she visited and tried the dress on for me (Beautiful!--SHE'S beautiful, the dress is beautiful! Exciting!--I can't believe she's getting married in four months! But also, sad-ish--my little girl is all grown up!) The dress fits perfectly and she wants me to store it in our house, which I am happy to do, 

but then, she changes her mind and would like for me to mail it back. I am fine with this, although, a tad anxious, not totally confident in the US Postal Service, and further complicating matters, the Ship and Sell place I'd been using to return Returns, recently lost a Return. So, what to do? 

I fold my daughter's dress and place it carefully back into the box and head out to tackle the task, choosing the nearest package-mailing place, which I will henceforth call: the POO-PEE-PESS Store.

Act Two

The guy at the counter is young-ish and bored-ish, but dutifully takes the box and asks me where I'd like it mailed. While I'm reeling off the address, I am not-watching and watching as he sticks three rather small pieces of tape around the box. 

(A word about this box: It opens on three sides. The dress is accordian-ed into it and threatening any moment to poof out. Will three small pieces of tape keep the thing safely secured? I don't know!) 

"Excuse me," I say, "could you add a little more tape to that?"

The guy looks at me boredishly. "It's got enough tape on it." He moves on with the transaction and I fiddle with my credit card, popping it into the machine as I eye the box and the very small amount of tape again. If I had done this at home, I would've strapped half a roll of tape around the box and maybe that would've been overkill, but really, is there something between half a roll and three small pieces that might be... better? 

"Okay," I say, and I chuckle a little to show the guy that I am cool and not possibly, a nutjob. "But could you just humor me and add a few more pieces of tape? This is an important package." 

The guy looks at the box, a hint of an eye-roll threatening. "Trust me," he says. "There's enough tape." 

"Yeah," I say, chuckling again, but more manically this time. "I'm asking you to add more tape. Please. This is a wedding dress." 

He looks at me. I look at him. He shakes his head. No. 

My heart is banging. Blood is sloshing around inside my skull. I am imagining the dress spilling out of the box on a roadway, its copious lace tearing and unraveling. I won't be able to sleep tonight, I won't be able to live with myself if I don't get THIS GUY to put more tape on the box. 

For a moment I am in the library facing the woman who wanted me to help her with her tax forms and I kept trying to explain to her why I couldn't do that and she kept growing more upset and why wouldn't I help her and finally I walked away and sent the Circ Manager Who Gets Paid the Big Bucks to deal with situations like that. 

But there is no one else working in this POO PEE PESS Store!!

Act Three

I grab a roll of tape off the wall and not chuckling at all, I tell the guy I am buying this tape and I am taping the box myself. He stands aside as I do that, then we complete the transaction, with an additional eight dollars and eighty one cents for the tape. 

I pay for it gladly and burst out of the POO PEE PESS Store sweating and jittery, only thinking when I get into my car that I should've taken the box back from the guy, told him to F off and gone some place else, but what are you gonna do. Sometimes we are at the mercy of the world, the bored, the disinterested, the unwavering, the just-doing-their-jobs,

and okay, maybe I should've been kinder to that lady at the library who didn't understand why I was the last person in the world who should be giving tax advice to anyone. Even so, I could've been kinder, I truly could have been, and next time I will be, I promise, I PROMISE, but in the meantime, let the tape hold.

Please. Let the tape hold. 

The End

PS: It did. 


Sunday, June 5, 2022

Nine things I didn't know until this month (and one thing I still don't know)

1. You can pour boiling water directly over freshly pulled leaves from the garden (mint, sage, raspberry leaves) and make a very tasty cup of tea.

2. Never try to help an impatient crochety patron on the computer who is trying to interpret a complex tax form and English is her second language and you are wearing a mask and your body decides at that very moment to have a hot flash. 

3. Butterfly bushes are bad and you should never plant them, and okay, you THINK you're planting a bush that will attract butterflies, which sounds like a good idea, but then the butterflies will lay eggs on the plant, and caterpillars will hatch, but they can't eat the butterfly bush leaves, so you've pretty much stunted their entire lifecycle, and what kind of cruel joke is this nonsense?! 

4. Instead, plant Butterfly Weed. 

5. Never repost a heart-wrenching poem written by a grieving mother on your social media account without first checking to see if the poem was actually written by the person you thought wrote it. 

6. Addendum: Never repost anything on your social media account.   

7. If you sign up to attend a special program at the library on How to Turn Your Backyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat, you will show up to the event and find to your surprise and amusement that every single person in the audience is, like you, a middle-aged white woman who has quit coloring her hair. 

8. Deep fried deviled eggs at the Boone Tavern in Berea, Kentucky. I know. I know. It sounds... gross. It did to me too. But, trust me. So freaking good.

9. When you stumble across an urban farm (down the street from the Boone Tavern in Berea, Kentucky) and you excitedly strike up a conversation with the farmer about pollinator gardens and seed exchanges and you'll think you've found a kindred spirit, another gung ho Let's grow herbs and attract bees and make our own tea, but realize very quickly that this guy is next level serious when he tells you that this is no hobby for him (like it is for you, is the implication) but that the entire global food chain is one step away from collapsing, and oh my God, I need to get home right now and plant more food in my backyard.

1. How to poach an egg. 

Sunday, May 29, 2022

The marjoram in the garden

turned out to be tarragon. For three years now I've had it growing, the only plant I took with me from our old house, and the first one I planted in the freshly filled up koi-pond-turned-herb-garden. 

Marjoram, if you don't know it, (and I didn't) is kind of like oregano. Rub a leaf between your fingers and you'll get a pizza-y vibe. (I never rubbed a leaf between my fingers.) Also, I never knew how to pronounce the word until yesterday, right before I yanked the plant out of the ground by the roots. I had been putting the emphasis on the second syllable-- marJORam. But actually, it's pronounced MARjoram, which makes me think of margarine, and another mark against it in my opinion. 

But this is entirely unfair, considering that it was not marjoram that I had growing in my garden for three years, but tarragon. (Pronounced TARragon). Tarragon, if you don't know it (and I didn't) is widely used in French cuisine. You will need it, for example, if you want to make a Béarnaise sauce. According to the New York Times Cooking Section, a good Béarnaise requires one tablespoon plus one teaspoon of tarragon leaves. If this is accurate, and why wouldn't it be, I could've made several oil-sized drums of Béarnaise sauce with the amount of tarragon leaves I had. 

For the record I am not a huge Béarnaise sauce fan. So, why did I have tarragon growing in my garden? Good question! What happened was, we were moving and everything was rush rush rush and I grabbed the plant to take with me to the new house, and then there was a global pandemic, and I was deconstructing the koi pond in the backyard to keep my mind off mass sickness and death and I planted the plant I thought was marjoram. 

Cut to: it took off like a weed, and the other day I was looking at it, really looking at it, and really thinking, why do I have so much marJORam (mispronouncing it in my head) and what can I use this for in my cooking, and when I looked it up in an herb cookbook, I saw a picture of marjoram and it registered for the first time that THIS plant was not marjoram. 

It's tarragon, and I don't want or need this much of it and over the past few days it's pretty clear that I have thought entirely too much about it. But this beats thinking about what I really don't want to think about: 

how when I was teaching fourth and fifth graders twenty years ago, we had a faculty meeting about school shooters and the protocol for a lockdown was for the teacher to run to the classroom door and pull any stray children in the hallway into the room before locking the door, and if a child happened to be left out in the hallway, alone, 

you have to leave them there, instruct them to hide in the restroom and squat on the toilet or something, good luck, and I couldn't stop picturing it, my children your children, finding themselves alone in the hallway on the other side of the locked classroom door. My mind wouldn't picture it any further, 

the part where there was a crazed gunman roaming the school, blowing children's heads off, but today I am picturing it, despite all of my best efforts, the children in the classrooms or outside the classrooms, the abject terror on both sides of the door, and for a moment

I want you to picture it too, this horror that happens over and over again in our country. Sit with it, squirm with it, hold it for longer than four days, and let's do something about it this time.


Sunday, May 22, 2022

Socks of Many Colors

Last night we were talking about book banning and how maybe we should listen to the people who are afraid of books AND WHAT SCARY STUFF their children might be exposed to, and therefore, they must dictate what books should not be allowed for the rest of us.  

We were at a party and it was like we weren't in a pandemic, nobody wearing masks and a packed house and everyone touching the same serving spoons, but oh my God the food was so good and all of us happy and chatty and casually dressed up, the bright lights and noise from the house spilling out into the dark night, the clink of glasses, the colorful abundance of the dessert table, and how have we gone so long without parties? 

We were sitting on the sun porch and there was adequate ventilation, but still, I could sniff a whiff of covid in the air. Or maybe not. We keep dodging bullets. Taking all of the precautions and sifting through risk tables and suddenly you wake up one day, and it's been two years and two months and eight days of the Global Pandemic, and even though the cases are rising (again), sometimes you just want to go to a damn party. 

The couple my husband and I were chatting with was the same couple we'd chatted with the last time we went to a party. It was three years ago, but it felt like yesterday, and at the same time, it felt like the distant past of a fragmented fever dream. Same hosts and same delicious food and same casual dressed-up-ness. We even picked up where we'd left off in the same conversation: the renovations we were doing on our new-old house. 

In the past I told the story of the previous owner's weirdo wooden board obsession and how much dismantling was involved, the various tools and screwheads (whatever the proper terminology is) and the couple seemed interested, the wife, a writer friend, even going so far as to volunteer her services, and my husband and I threatening to take her up on this, but then, alas, it was fall and winter and then came the pandemic.

We dismantled it all ourselves, we told them in the present, one of our main projects during the lockdown. But it did make me want to dial back, go into the past, to a different timeline where there was no pandemic, and the only thing to worry about was dismantling weirdo wooden structures, and in this timeline we'd invite the couple over to help.

Another writer friend entered the sunroom and the conversation morphed into book banning, another thing I wish could take place in an alternate timeline. I want to listen to these people, the writer friend said. Just, hear what they have to say, or do you think they're too dug into their position? 

My husband, quiet up to this point, was the one who answered. Two things, he said, and he leaned forward seriously. 

First thing, when I'm at work and training people, it's understood that 30 percent of the trainees will be on board and gung ho about everything. Forty percent are in the middle and can swing either way. And the other 30 percent wants no part of whatever you have to teach them. So, forget them. They'll either come around or they'll move on. 

And thing two? 

He stretched his leg out and pulled up the hem of his pants. Socks, he said. I've noticed that the men here are wearing colorful socks. 

He didn't mention anything about alternate timelines or a world where there wasn't a crazed segment of society clamoring for book banning, or a pandemic and the fact that we were (possibly?) all risking our lives attending this party, and okay, maybe it was just me, overthinking it, how I tend to, 

but when the other guys in the circle stuck their own legs out and revealed their socks, I snapped a picture and froze us for the moment into this timeline, 

which, for better or worse, is likely, the only one we have. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The world is broken the world is beautiful

and I am trying to make sense of it. The white supremacist man who murdered ten people at a grocery store yesterday. The lovely writer friend who offered me seedlings from her garden. Six tomato plants. Two zucchinis. Two cucumbers and one chamomile. I really love that chamomile. I went to a rally

with my husband. The last rally for reproductive rights I attended I was with my daughter. Several hundred people gathered outside the Ohio Statehouse, a woman from Planned Parenthood waving her megaphone, telling us: "Next time, come back with your boyfriends, your husbands, your fathers, your brothers." This time the men are here. This time there are several thousand of us. 

Some of the men wear rainbow vests that read Clinic Escort. It makes me want to cry when people show up for each other. My friend had all of the carefully potted and labeled seedlings waiting for me when I came to collect them. I say, my friend, but the truth is I hardly know her. A few years ago she gave me an aloe plant. She'd read a blog post I'd written about a weird encounter I had with an aloe juice salesman in Prague and offered the plant to me. I take back what I said about not knowing her. I know this: she is a giver of plants. 

My husband held my sign for me at the rally when my arm got tired. He was hot and his back hurt, but I was the one who said it's okay, we can go now. My sign is the same one I take to all the rallies. A stop sign with the word NO. Here is one way I have of making sense of things: Hold up my hand to everything that is terrible and refuse to consent to it. White supremacists with guns. Deluded people who want to tell others what they can and cannot do with their own bodies.

The man who murdered the people in the grocery store was an eighteen-year-old forced birther. In his "manifesto" he raged about how white women need to give birth to 2.6 babies or be replaced as a race. The world is broken the world is beautiful and I am trying trying trying to make sense of it, 

but what if there is no sense of it? What if it's only us, here, now, in all of our brokenness and beautifulness? After the rally I went to work at the library. I stashed my NO sign in the back seat of my car. I packed up all of my extra seeds and filed them in the library seed exchange. 

It isn't much, but I like to imagine later this summer, my flowers growing wherever strangers have planted them.  

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Notes on Rage

I never had an abortion. But if I'd found myself in the situation, I might have had one, when I was fifteen. Fifteen, I was a messed up little fool. Fifteen, I was still a child myself. But as messed up, foolish and young as I was, I was old enough to know that I was not yet ready to be a mother. 

There'd been a scare in my childhood friend group that hammered the point home. The girl almost died of pre-eclampsia when she was delivering her baby. I went to the hospital to see her with another friend and we were turned away. We were too young, the nurse told us. Apparently, you had to be eighteen or in the company of an adult to visit the fifteen-year-old, nearly dead, new mother. 

By then, I was already noticing the unfairness, the inconsistencies. A discussion in the news of a pregnant girl who was kicked out of the National Honor Society at her high school for showing poor leadership. A commenter pointed out that maybe the girl had shown strength and courage for choosing to keep her baby, despite the obvious difficulties and shame. The spokesman for the school said the girl was a bad role model and shouldn't have gotten pregnant in the first place. 

There was no mention of the boy in the equation. Presumably, he got to remain in the National Honor Society.

Another reminder: the girl in my own Catholic high school who was expelled after accusing several boys on the baseball team of raping her. Slut who had it coming to her was the general opinion of the school. I was sitting in the library right outside the principal's office the day the girl and her parents came to empty out her locker. I could hear her sobbing, the cries turning defiant and reverberating across the hall and into the quiet library, and then a screamed out Fuck you that I still remember forty years later. The anguish in it. The rage.  

I feel that same mix of anguish and rage now. 

I don't want to argue with you about abortion. I suspect that whatever your position is, it's firm. I also suspect that if you disagree with me that women should have agency over their own bodies, that they should have the right to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy, to plan when they will have children (or not), I won't be able to change your mind, and anyway, you've probably already quit reading. 

Good. Whatever. 

To everyone else-- what can we do? Vote. Well, yes, of course. March. Sure. I'll march. But I'm wondering if this is enough. We've voted. We've marched. And yet, HERE WE ARE. There's an interesting article in the Atlantic about Ireland and the fight to overturn their punitive and restrictive pro forced-birth laws. The movement gained momentum in 2012 after a 31-year-old woman who was seventeen weeks pregnant was denied a medically necessary abortion and died from sepsis. [Pro-"lifers," if you're still here, before you say it. No. It was not God's will. Not unless you believe God grants life or death based on whether a person goes to a hospital in Ireland or in England] 

What I liked about the article was how the women in Ireland fought back. Three, in particular, who were well past child-bearing age, bought abortion pills online and then presented themselves at the police station to be arrested. One of the women joked that she could catch up on her reading in jail. The thought was: What? Are you going to arrest everyone? 

I'm thinking that this method of protesting might work for me. I have a lot of reading to catch up on myself. A long list of books that the same people who want to ban abortion are now threatening to ban. 

I don't know if they will hear me, hear us, the middle-aged women, the childbearing women, the girls, and all of the men who love us. If they could, though, I would tell them this: 

I never want to go back to when I was fifteen years old. But if I did, this time I would rise up out of my seat in the silent library. I would march into the hallway to join the girl who was screaming. I would scream with her for a moment and then I would take her hand and walk with her out of the dark school and into the light, where all of our friends are waiting. 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Spring has sprung and deer saunter through my neighborhood

eating the tulips. On walks with my dog, I see them grazing in front yards and hurry past, afraid they'll see us and attack. Okay, not attack, exactly, but what if one of them startles and bolts and slams into me or tramples the dog? I've seen them do that before. Not slam or trample, but startle and bolt. Once, on a walk with my daughter, 

when she and her dog were living here earlier in the pandemic, we saw a deer run, gallop, race--I don't know the proper deer-in-action lingo, but trust me, it was fast!-- as it crossed the street. "Oh my god," I said to my daughter after the danger had passed and the deer was casually munching on tulips in a different front yard, "that thing could've killed us!" 

She looked at me with a mixture of amusement and concern. Both dogs hadn't even noticed the deer. Which just goes to show... something. I'm easily startled? Readily spooked? It's true, my nervous system tends to be set on high alert. Especially during the pandemic. Are we still in the pandemic? Yes, no, maybe? At the library I have stopped wearing my mask, although several of my co-workers and some of the patrons wear theirs. 

A friend tells me she is a One Way Masker, and I like that description. I do still wear my mask when I am in crowded indoor places with dubious air quality. Not that I go into such places often. I got the fourth shot at the advice of my doctor. I took two home tests last week, worried that my allergies were maybe... not? 

Two years and nearly two months after This Whole Thing Started, it seems like those of us who've made it through unscathed, are weary, fending for ourselves, trying to pick up where we left off, but I don't know

can we? 

Sometimes I wonder if I am more scathed than I realize. The solution--and this I've learned after much trial and error--is escaping (into books, movies, binge-watching TV shows about people throwing pottery) and doing something physical (yoga, carrying books up and down the stairs at the library because the elevator is broken) and going outside (to walk the dog, dig up weeds, plant seeds). It is also, a dear friend reminded me recently, about connection and community. 

And speaking of seeds and connection and community, here is something lovely we are offering at our library. A seed exchange. 

How it works is you take a packet or two of seeds, and if you have extra seeds of your own, you can give some back. 

"But what if people just take the seeds," a patron asks me, "and never give anything back?" 

"I don't know," I tell her. "We have additional seed packets in our workroom. Other people will give back more. It'll all work out." 

She looks doubtful, but I know I'm right. At night I walk the dog and spy a deer in someone's front yard. I freeze, but the deer keeps munching as if we are not even here. The dog and I scurry by, unscathed.  

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Long weekend visiting old friends

people we haven't seen since before the pandemic, in a place we haven't visited in years before that, but here, we so easily fall back into the rhythm of our relationship, as if nothing has changed even as everything has changed. Let me tell you a story about this friend

a time when I was entangled in a toxic stew of a mess way beyond my paygrade (I was a volunteer) with people who had utterly confounded me, and one day after a particularly exhausting and maddening interaction, I found myself crying on the phone to her, and then, just as suddenly stopped

because I didn't DO that, cry in front of people, never mind spill out my guts, so I immediately apologized, and my friend said, gently, You don't have to apologize, Jody, you're my friend. Which actually got me crying again for a moment, because how kind that was, and what a gift, never mind a lesson in how to be a good friend. 

This time there is no crying, but lots of catching up and lively conversation. Also, we had to install the Little Free Library my husband had made for her and her husband. This is a new hobby of my husband's that started back in the fall when I asked him to build one for me and has morphed into him making several more, including two for an elementary school in our neighborhood. 

I am bragging about this here because I know he will never brag about himself but LOOK HOW ADORABLE THIS IS:

One of the topics I keep bringing up in conversation with everyone in my orbit is how do we make sense of Things, the utter craziness of the world lately, or really, forever, as some of us are only more recently waking up to it, and no one seems to know the answer. Sometimes, I confess, I can get quite emotional when I bring up this topic, and I immediately want to reel it back in, apologize, but this time

I don't, remembering who I am with. We are sitting on the front porch, drinking our coffee this morning, and one of my friend's neighbors walks by and comments on the new Little Free Library and how nice it is. It is warm and sunny and lovely outside and birds are singing all over the place and my friend shows me an app on her phone that can identify bird sounds, 

and then we go back to chatting and sipping our coffee and it occurs to me that there is no answer to my question because we can't make sense of things that don't make sense. 

And maybe that's okay, at least in this moment, when there are little free libraries and spring mornings and coffee and kind neighbors and singing birds and dear friends.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

One Sunday morning

in church and I was little, squirming in the polished pews, my baby brother crawling under the seats, popping up like a prairie dog between the other church-goers' feet, the irritated sighs and judgmental whispers, and no one in my pew capable of fixing the situation. Embarrassed, I stalked outside and did flips on the metal railing by the rectory until a priest caught me and asked why I was skipping mass, 

but how could I verbalize back then my shame? For my brother who was too young to feel it. For my parents who were old enough but didn't seem to feel it either. And who else was going to take on the feeling but me, and what an expert I became at that. Regardless, 

it wasn't a good reason to miss mass, so the priest led me back inside the church, and that was double the shame. Triple. Quadruple. The mortification blooming, swelling, replicating like a virus. Be kind to them, he told me. Forgive them. 

I did. I did. Still, sometimes I wish he'd said be kind to yourself too, for you are also worthy of forgiveness. That lesson took half a lifetime to learn and it didn't happen in church. This morning 

the two newborn mourning doves in the nest on the back porch bob their small heads, their parents, good parents, close by and mindful. My husband coos at them, and after a beat, they coo back. God only knows what they are saying, but isn't it lovely, the song.